ARTS&CULTURE, ISTANBUL

2015 12 05

Tracing Turkey’s hip hop culture

 Istanbul is set to host a major hip hop show this weekend.

Although hip hop is not the dominant in Turkish music, Istanbul is set to host a major concert which, its organizer says, will "bring together the greatest names of the hip hop community" in Turkey.

Titled "Hip Hop Jam", the show will gather 33 Turkish hip-hop performers at Istanbul’s Volkswagen Arena on Dec. 5.   

One of Turkey’s most well-known rap artists Bilgin Ozcalkan, aka Ceza (punishment in Turkish) will be the headliner of the gig.

The Istanbul-born 37-year-old singer is the contemporary face of the Turkish rap scene.

His latest album Suspus (Silent and Cowering), released in May, was ranked at number 1 in the Turkish entertainment retailer D&R charts at the time, staying on the list for 8 weeks.

Ceza’s music has been used not only as jingles for television advertisements. A political party in Turkey had adapted one of his songs for its election campaign, but was sued by the singer for copyright infringement. 

Turkish hip hop was actually born in Germany, a country where Turks form one of the largest minorities.

Germany-based Turkish rap group Cartel -- whose members are mainly children of Turkish immigrants who went to Germany to find work during the 1960s -- released its first album in 1995.

The band sold around 500,000 records officially and more than 1.5 million bootleg copies, says Tunc "Turbo" Dindas, a veteran hip hop artist.

A member of Cartel at the time, Erci Ergun aka Erci E, says: "Cartel showed Turkey that Turkish rap could be successful."

The band was the first and the only Turkish rap group that took the stage at Istanbul’s Inonu Stadium in 1995.

According to the 42-year-old Berliner, Cartel introduced a new wave of music and "Turkish youngsters started to take interest in hip hop culture".

Erci E. says Germany-based musicians were influential for Turkish hip hop until 2004, but today’s Turkish rap has its own audience and market.

In the nineties, Turkish rap groups would copy German accents, he says. 

"Today Turkish rap has found its own way," he adds. "Conditions are better today."

Another Berlin-born rapper, Mahmut Akin, aka Maho B, who lives in Turkey’s northwestern province of Bursa, recalls: "We couldn’t even find a microphone in the past."

Cartel combined traditional Turkish music with rap beats, using samples from prominent Turkish musicians such as Baris Manco and Erkin Koray.

When they used Turkish pro-nationalist singer Ozan Arif’s samples in their songs, they received attention from Turkish nationalists, says Dindas.     

But, according to Maho B., Cartel’s reference to nationalism is "a misunderstanding".

"If you are living in Germany, everyday neo-Nazis call Turks out. It was a reaction to Neo-Nazism," he says.

The group’s one of the most well-known songs was Cartel Bir Numara (Cartel Number One).

The video clip starts with one of the MCs listening to the news on the radio: "Five Turks including three children lost their lives after a fire attack last night," says a broken Turkish voice -- a reference to the 1993 Solingen arson attack, one of the most serious anti-foreigner violent acts in modern Germany, in which five people, including three children, died. 

"Cartel consisted of not only Turks but also of Turkish minority group Kurds and a German and a Cuban," Maho B. adds.

According to Dindas, members of Cartel saw themselves similarly to  African-Americans in the U.S. and rap music was a way of providing an identity to their existence in German society.

Dindas claims that the main reason why the first Turkish rap songs came from Germany was the fact the grammar structure of the Turkish language was supposedly not suitable for rap music.

"The new generation of Turkish immigrants in Germany spoke a broken Turkish and it was easier for them to adapt Turkish into rap music," he says.

Maho B. does not agree with Dindas. "Rap music can be done in any language, in French or in Japanese," he says.

Cartel’s fame slid after a disagreement with their manager, which resulted not releasing any other video clip.

In 2011, the group members came together again but this attempt was not as successful as their first experience in 1995.

Turkish rapper and radio DJ Ege Cubukcu, who will take part in Saturday’s show, says: "Turkish radios don’t play rap music as it is not mainstream." 

He adds that his radio program Sehrin Azizleri -- Saints of the City -- at Acik (Open) Radio, an independent radio station broadcasting from Istanbul, is the only national rap music show in Turkey.

Cubukcu believes, however, that there have been good productions from Turkey’s new hip hop generation in recent years.

Maho B. does not agree, saying, "Today’s rap is empty."

"You don’t see love or respect in the new generation's songs. Their album productions are very low quality as they produce them in their houses. We worked in professional studios and our topics consisted of problems on the environment, economics, and politics. You wouldn’t hear any swear word or battle with another rapper in our songs," he adds.

Besides Ceza and Ege Cubukcu, Saturday’s gig will feature Mode XL, Sansar Salvo, Pit10, Ayben (Ceza’s sister), Kamufle and Anil Piyanci & Emrah Karakuyu.

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